Not Alone in the Dark…

We never “really” get over it. That feeling that what we cannot see just might “get us!” When we were small children, our parents may have installed nightlights to show us that nothing was really in the room with us at bedtime. They may have inspected the closet and looked under the bed to demonstrate that nothing bad was there. They may have even explained to us all the reasons our fears were irrational and reminded us that they were on the far side of the house (away from us) and that if we needed them…we only needed to cry out.

The feeling never went away. We wondered if the object of our fears might be lurking in a shadow or may have been overlooked when inspecting the closet. Our real issue was not the darkness but the sense that we were alone.

How does one find peace from the fear and anxiety that bad things happen when we are alone?

I think this is the heartbeat of Jesus’ statement to His followers just prior to His ascension back to the Father in heaven… “and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus never promised that bad people or bad things would not come against us. He never declared our lives to be filled with unicorns and cotton candy. He, in fact, declared the opposite, “In this world you will have tribulation!” (John 16:33). And at the same time, Christ indicated that we could experience a profound peace, even amid our difficult circumstance.

God’s PEACE is not experienced based on the absence of trouble but on the presence of God.

In Psalm 23, David declared, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” God’s presence put our “trouble” in perspective.

A boy was having difficulties with a bully on the walk to school. After several confrontations, he was so afraid of what would happen that he dreaded even walking that way again. His father, recognizing the real issue, did not promise to remove the bully but chose instead to walk with his son on the journey the next day. When they faced the bully kid along the walk, there was no issue. The bully was the same, but the son had confidence because his dad was bigger than the bully and HE WAS WITH HIM.

Today, as you face the challenges that are guaranteed to come, don’t fear the dark or dread being alone. If you are His child, you are never alone…not even in the dark. “Fear not for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10).

Pray for me…

So, the question is, “Do I share a concern that I have with others so that they can pray for me and with me?” What if I am wired as a pretty private person and prefer not to “air out” my concerns? What if I have a theological understanding that God already knows my needs and I have prayed personally and specifically about them to Him? Perhaps… “What is the value of getting as many people as possible to pray about something? Does God give in and answer a prayer if you get enough uprising of prayer voices?”

A theology of prayer is not one that many people can articulate, and I don’t expect this short article to suddenly change the world on that matter; however, I do want to offer a perspective that I hope will be helpful.

Recently I came to a milestone in my education. After four doctoral seminars and two advanced doctoral seminars, after reading tens of thousands of pages of texts and hundreds of hours of lecture and conversation about numerous subjects…I had to sit for my comprehensive exams (aka Comps). All of the information I was exposed to and thought about for (in my case) nearly two years was on the table and I had to synthesize it and respond to questions about it. One question was an essay response to a prompt and two questions were “oral board” style with faculty members and a subject matter “practitioner” expert.

So, how do you prepare for that? One thing is pray. While I have a generally good grasp of tests…this one seemed to have so much riding on it, that I was genuinely nervous. So, I prayed and I shared the burden of my anxiousness with those close to me (family, close friends, my LIFE Group, etc.). Here are some of the reasons why I shared with others…reasons I will refer to as benefits:

  • Vulnerability. When you ask others to pray for you, you remind everyone, including yourself, that you are not invincible. This promotes humility. It also facilitates trust.
  • People want to help you. Others recognize when you are genuinely burdened about something and they want to help.
  • Community. Christians live in close-quarters with one another. We are on mission together. It would be derelict to withhold the fact that you are distracted by a concern.
  • Encouragement. Knowing others were praying and then receiving encouraging notes and texts mattered. It lifted me.
  • Shared Victory. When I passed my comps, a HUGE weight was lifted. I still have a ton of work to do, but this was really a big hurdle. I felt like I achieved something. I told Jodi, “I can see the light at the other end now.” I also sensed that many other people felt that they shared in that victory. They did, by the way, because we are a community and we labored together in prayer…so the victory is shared! But…the point is…they FELT the victory when WE PASSED the tests. To not share would have denied others of that realized experience of victory.

So, I get “private” and all that…but with so many benefits of having others pray for you…wouldn’t it be wise to admit that maybe God has a better plan and permit the community to function as it is designed?

Who are you “denying” the opportunity to feel victory because you wanted to keep a real burden private.

The Principle of Unintended Consequence…

A wise man once said, “Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was erected. There may be something beyond the horizon you don’t want to come after you.”

When I was a small child (I don’t remember this, but only the stories told about it) I was spending time with my aunt and uncle in Florida and was curious about a plastic container near a sink. It had little covers over the two very small cup-like things and there was water in them. I had never seen a contact lens holder before, so I opened one of them and inadvertently washed a contact down a drain. It was not what I intended.

Can I call that an accident? Certainly not! It only happened because I was doing something else I was not supposed to be doing. I did not mean for it to happen. It was an unintended consequence.

In leadership, this principle plays out time and again. In church leadership, these choices seem to magnify intensely (mainly because churches are people and the variables on decisions with people are innumerable). Effective leaders, however, must become adept at forecasting unintended consequences. This involves more than acting and then praying that God protects you from consequences. It involves more than asking three friends what they might do in a similar situation. It means learning to examine a matter from a variety of perspectives.

Here are 4 tips:

  • Ask, “Why is this necessary?” Write down the reason that this change or action is required in your current context. In other words: what problem are you seeking to fix, what question are you seeking an answer to, or what outcome are you trying to achieve?
  • Ask, “How will those immediately affected perceive this action?” When Martha hears you say that you are moving her Sunday School class to the other end of the hall, what will go through her mind as to the rationale? Remember, everyone listens through the filter of their own experiences. Those likely differ from yours as a leader.
  • Ask, “How would this be reported on the evening news?” News reports, at times, scare me. In our attention-deprived culture of soundbites, every story is to be condensed to 90 seconds. If someone were observing your action and then editing the entirety of it to 90 seconds, what would make the highlight reel? Your church cancels a particular outreach event…for (prospectively) a hundred good reasons. If none of those were understood, what would onlookers assume was your motive. As bad as it sounds… “what will people think of your decision?”
  • Verify and Adapt. Take your new information and verify that the consequences of the decision or change are worth it. Then, adapt your message to address beforehand as many of the downsides as you uncovered. If the new direction is good…press on, but be wise as you lead others in the new direction. Don’t complain about people throwing rocks at you when you could have removed them but, instead, left them lying around on the ground.

What might you add to this list if you had written the article? I’d love to hear.

Speaking and Listening to Grow…

I have been writing for several days now on my spiritual disciplines to give a glimpse into what it looks like to grow in Christ. I am not speaking of gaining knowledge though growing in Christ requires us to know more information about Him. I have talked about a number of components mentioned in my article HERE. You can follow the threads and see about a Bible Reading Plan, using devotional guides, reading in the Book of Proverbs, and my deeper bible study reading. Today, I want to discuss prayer (and I am using the term ‘want’ loosely).

As I said in the initial article, this is the place where I feel the weakest since I find myself becoming impatient and sometimes distracted in this area. It is one thing to have a prayer time where you ask God to bless your meal…or to heal Aunt Ethel’s big toe injury (both necessary and good aspects of prayer), but I am talking about talking and listening to God.

This time is often divided and many times informal. Here is what I mean.

It begins with acknowledging God for who He is. I start by rehearsing all fo the qualities of God that come to my mind.

Then, the time turns toward confession: God forgive me for these areas SPECIFICALLY that I know inhibit my fellowship with you.

Third, and this is the tricky part…God speak to me. NOW–LISTEN.

Here God is free to turn my mind wherever He wishes. He may remind me of sin, shift my thoughts to His greatness, press me to intercede for someone…or just be silent as He trains me to wait on Him. Then…I ask Him to open my mind to the Scripture. As I am reading, I like to think God is also turning my mind by drawing me to things in Scripture.

Finally, I repeat: God you are great and here is how… God forgive me and this is why…God show me what You want me to know or see and I will wait.

When I sense it is time to move forward I do.

Here are a couple of things that make this hard for me (and maybe for you too):

  • I get in a hurry. I am a slave, at times, to my calendar.
  • My mind is prone to wander. I swear the enemy will flash every shiny squirrel he can to get me off-track.
  • I am selfish. I often want to focus on me and how I can grow and what I want God to show me. God on the other hand, will not share in my self-absorbed madness. He stands quietly just out of view.
  • I like to drive. Waiting and watching and being dependent is an ongoing challenge. I have to work at it.

But, when I get it right: (excuse the forthcoming alliteration. I am a preacher after all).

  • I sense His presence. I can tell God is there.
  • I sense His peace. He speaks to things that are important to me.
  • I sense His purpose. I gain direction.
  • I sense His power. I feel like I can do it (whatever the IT is at that moment).

I hope that helps. If you have a better plan or a thought to contribute I am all ears…as long as I stay focused.

Grace and Peace,

PC.

Growth through Deeper Study

Last week, I wrote an article on How I will grow spiritually in 2018, and since then, I have written several articles on different parts of the disciplines I use in my own spiritual development: Scripture Reading plans, devotionals, and reading from Proverbs. Today I want to discuss the fourth discipline- Reading for Deeper Understanding.

This may sound a little weird, but it shouldn’t. What I am speaking of is a slower, more methodical study of a specific Book in the Bible, along with study tools, to get a deeper understanding.

For instance, right now I am reading the Minor Prophet Hosea again. It is a fairly short book but it will take me a while to work through it because I am in no hurry. I almost always have a commentary available and some tool to help me with the original language. The goal…is to grasp the full context of a passage or a book and understand not only what was said but why it was said, to whom was it spoken, and about what did it refer.

For example: Hosea was a prophet in Israel (Northern Kingdom) for around 40 years. The Israelites living there had forsaken almost everything holy except the name of being God’s people. They acknowledged God but lived like all religious roads ended up at the same place. Furthermore, they pursued many of these religious pursuits through sexual immorality, idolatry, and self-sufficiency. Their priests had abdicated their responsibility of teaching truth and calling for repentance to the point…that the people wrestled with even knowing the truth.

This background sets the context for God’s instructions to Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children with her…giving them weird names of prophetic significance. God said the prostitute (whose name was Gomer by-the-way) would cheat on Hosea and return to harlotry. God then told Hosea to go and pay her ransom and bring her home, purify her, and love her.

Now I will confess…I have had some tough assignments as a minister…but seriously! This has to take the cake! What under heaven is God thinking?

Well, God wants Hosea to live out a parable demonstrating God’s love toward a rebellious people. As Hosea took a wife that slept around, God has taken a people that committed spiritual adultery with every false religion on the block! As Hosea was hurt by his wife’s return to harlotry, God is hurt by ours. As Hosea went and redeemed and purified his wife, receiving her back to himself, God redeems us (sinful spiritual harlots), purifies us and receives us to Himself (See Rom 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, Eph 5:22-33, et. al.)

So with a little help from scholars and taking my time…the depths of knowledge of God’s heart resulting in an overwhelming appreciation for His matchless grace rises up!

So, all that to say that in addition to the other things, I am also involved in this discipline which really is one of the most encouraging parts of my devotional time with God.

Maybe, if you really want to “get it” with God…give it a try. Use a Study Bible or purchase a commentary on a particular book and give it a whirl…after all, if you can understand God better and that results in pasisonate worship…what do you have to lose?

Grace and Peace.

PC.

 

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